If you've followed the cinematic adventures of Harry Potter, it's hard to imagine how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 could fail. The series that began as an investment in J.K. Rowling's remarkable hero-quest narrative evolved, over the course of seven films, into something else: an investment in the coming of age of the three young actors at their center. We're saying goodbye not just to Harry, Ron and Hermione, but to watching Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow up in those roles. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves would have had to work hard to spoil the goodwill built into this moment.
While this is far from a perfect piece of filmcraft, Yates and Kloves know exactly how to guide us through the final chapter. That sense begins with a notable lack of "in our last episode" throat-clearing. Harry, Ron and Hermione are still in exile, and still seeking the final horcruxes - the objects containing shards of Voldemort's soul - in order to destroy them. And Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is gathering his forces as he prepares for the final destruction of Harry Potter.
In the previous three installments, Yates' lack of experience directing big action set-pieces was an obstacle to complete success. He's got a few doozies to bring to life here, and he seems to have gotten his feet under him in time to give them a solid kick.
There's a lot of loose-end-tying to get out of the way, and it would have been easy for those expository scenes to become a hindrance. Instead, they're rich with the moments that make this story deep and resonant.
There's an unexpected emotional power to a pair of twinned sequences: Harry's near-death meeting with Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) in a mystical version of King's Cross train station, and a coda that takes place in the same station, on the same platform where an 11-year-old Harry thrust himself through Platform 9-3/4 to enter the wizarding world for the first time. It's a reminder that Harry's defining moment is not facing down Voldemort but deciding to accept that challenge. This is a universal story, the story of putting aside the fears of childhood and accepting uncertainty, pain and loss.
I'm not sure it's possible to separate the movie's cinematic achievement from the entirety of this 10-year journey. Perhaps it's only truly perfect as a realization of the author's vision. And perhaps it's a perfect way to say goodbye to these characters.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
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